All-Star: AS Roma place their future in the hands of American CEO Italo Zanzi
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The name Italo Zanzi is as Italian as it gets.
But AS Roma's CEO, installed at the end of 2012 by the club's American ownership to help finally transform it into a perennial Italian soccer power, is a 39-year-old American who's still working on his Italian.
A former Major League Baseball executive and CONCACAF deputy general secretary, Zanzi was born in New York and attended high school and college in the States (University of Chicago and Emory University). See his full bio here.
And while Roma's USMNT midfielder Michael Bradley will surely claim the spotlight at Wednesday night's 2013 AT&T MLS All-Star Game (9 pm ET on ESPN2, UniMas, TSN/RDS in Canada, with LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com), the moment will be just as important for Zanzi.
"This is a really special visit for me in terms of now being at the helm of an Italian club and being able to come back to the US and try and combine the best of both worlds," Zanzi told MLSsoccer.com on Monday.
For Zanzi, that means taking the best practices from the US sports scene and combining them with the "know-how in Italy" to create something special.
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"The grand plan is to become the best football club in the world both on and off the field, and the US market is a critical piece in that vision," Zanzi said.
And while the All-Star Game and a recent partnership with Disney for training camps in Orlando are a start for American-owned Roma, Zanzi is under no illusion about what it will take to truly capture the imagination of the US soccer audience and grow the club's fan base beyond its massive domestic following in Italy.
"Clearly, we have to get back into Europe and succeed in Europe," Zanzi stated. "We have great bridges to the US, but ultimately American soccer fans have become very sophisticated and they want excellence on the field.
"We're confident we're going to do it and that we have the infrastructure to maximize the benefit of winning, when we do."
The club's American owners have wasted little time in building on that infrastructure. In January, AS Roma announced they will build a new soccer stadium that is on track to be ready for the 2016-17 season. It will have an expandable capacity of 55,000-60,000, giving the Giallorossi the financial muscle to compete with Europe's elite clubs similar to what has occurred with legendary Italian side Juventus FC, which has capitalized on their new stadium.
Roma need every edge they can get to placate their fans, who are starved for success, last having won a Serie A league title in 2000-01. The most recent sign of that impatience? Supporter protests at preseason training.
"It's one of those things you can't understand how deep it is until you live it and until you're a major stakeholder in it," Zanzi said about working in Italian soccer. "In the US, even if you are the most high profile US team in the most high-profile US sport, there is still not the same depth of passion. [In Rome] it's basically what people live for every day. Sometimes before their jobs, their family and other things.
"So did I know [the fan base] was passionate? Absolutely. But feeling the passion and the pressure every day, everywhere you go, you're mindful … It's omnipresent and you live it every day.